Nearly 100 undergraduate students filed down the aisles of the Salomon Center’s DECI Auditorium to the instrumental tune of Katy Perry’s “Firework” Saturday night, preparing to walk across the auditorium’s stage as formal recognition for completing their degree requirements.
Each year, the University hosts the Midyear Completion Celebration to “honor undergraduates who expect to complete their degree requirements in December,” according to the ceremony’s program. “The celebration provides an opportunity to recognize the achievements and unique paths of Brown’s ’0.5ers.”
The Chattertocks, one of the University’s 15 a capella groups, opened the event with a performance of the national anthem, followed by a reading of the invocation from Reverend Janet Cooper Nelson, the chaplain of the University. The events also featured speeches from Dean Rashid Zia ’01, President Christina Paxson P’19 and three undergraduate speakers: Seth Goldstein ’22.5 and a joint speech from Liliana King ’22.5 and Charlotte Scott ’22.5.
Zia called the celebration “one of the most joyous events on the Brown calendar.”
“This auditorium — perhaps a space in which many of you have spent countless hours in classes and exams, staging performances and debating ideas — will be transformed this afternoon through your presence and our voice into a hall of celebration,” he said.
Zia then reflected on the many different reasons students finish their undergraduate degree requirements mid-year, from students transferring from other universities to those taking leaves of absence to pursue work and creative projects. For many members of the class of 2022.5, the decision to take leave was motivated by the pandemic.
“We are so very proud of you all and all that you will achieve beyond this campus,” Zia said. “We do not know what comes next, but we do know that it will be better because of you and your classmates, your generosity and talents, your ingenuity and compassion.”
Paxson opened her keynote address by reflecting on what it was like to welcome many of the 0.5ers graduating as first-year students in 2018, when she spoke on the “unique lived experiences” that each student brought to the Brown community.
“I asked you at the time, … in what sense, despite the great diversity of backgrounds and experiences that you bring, are we unified?” Paxson said. Nearly four and a half years later, Paxson said that this question is more relevant now than when she first asked.
During the pandemic, University community members found new ways to keep their friendships and networks alive remotely, Paxson said. Students came together to protect one another and the local community while still finding joy — whether it be in remote concerts or adapting research.
“Living through this common experience has unified you in ways that you may not really even fully appreciate today, and that experience will indelibly shape your perspective to life going forward,” she said. “The lives you live after Brown will be as unique as diverse and wide-ranging as the experiences and backgrounds that you brought to this University.”
Paxson specifically recognized Riley Flores ’22.5, who recently received the best research presentation award at the 2022 National Convention of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, The Herald previously reported. For Paxson, Flores’s accomplishment is evidence of how “brilliant and dedicated people working together can change the world.”
Student speaker Goldstein opened his speech with a reference to his favorite childhood story, “Something from Nothing,” an old Yiddish folktale that tells the story of a child who loves his blanket so much that he takes it everywhere until it starts to fray.
“When it seems like it might be time to throw (the blanket) out, Grandfather, a tailor, finds a way to reimagine what the piece of fabric can be,” Goldstein said. “This happens again and again until finally, the last scrap of fabric is lost. Even a skilled tailor like Grandfather cannot make something from nothing.”
Goldstein also reflected on the things that have defined the graduating class’s time at the University, from major national events like the 2020 election to two — not four — Spring Weekends.
He finished the speech by inviting the rest of the graduating class to dream of a new ending to the story, “one that is inspired by our friends, family and teachers — our blankets.”
“In our version, we learn how to knit together,” he said. “We have navigated so much already in our time … and now it’s time to celebrate that we have learned to make something from it.”
King and Scott then took the stage to ask their fellow graduates to look back on their time at the University and consider, “Was it worth it?”
Framing their speech with the economic concept of opportunity cost, King and Scott reflected on how their class invested time, labor and money into their Brown education, and in return they have found a community.
The class of 2022.5 specifically made the choice to “step outside the box” during their college education, Scott said.
“One of our professors reminded us this year that if you think inside the box, you are no better than a rat in a cage chasing cheese,” King said, eliciting laughter from the audience. “But the class of 2022.5 has already started to break down those boxes and cages.”
Wendy Sheridan, academic advising program coordinator and student records specialist, concluded the celebration by reading the names of midyear completers. The Chattertocks also sang the “Alma Mater.”
“It feels very surreal, like we’ve come a really long way,” said Liza Mullett ’22.5, a former Metro editor at The Herald. “I’m a transfer, so it means a lot to get this special recognition for this very unique experience.”
Alex Nadirashvili is the managing editor of multimedia and social media for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. As a former University News editor, he covered faculty, higher education and student life, though his proudest legacy is The Brown Daily Herald TikTok account.